The Power of the Loss (aka How to “Use the Lose”)
By Kimberly McCluer, May 29th, 2016
Every year I write a blog of enthusiasm, pep and cheer about how to win at nationals. This year I have decided to change it up a
bit and write about how to lose! Please don’t stop reading because you think this will be a negative blog. It is actually quite the opposite. It is very clear in today’s society that parents do not want their kids to lose at anything. The “everybody wins” theme song is alive and well and will be, in fact, alive and well at TOP nationals as well. Every act will get a trophy, every child will get jacket pins, and every child will get ribbons. In addition neck medals, scholarships, cash and more will be handed out. There is opportunity galore to be a winner at TOP Nationals. There are, however, 14 very tall, shiny, coveted pieces of metal and plastic that make mommies, daddies, children and sometimes teachers see red! Yes, I am talking about the Overall 6-foot plus trophies. You know the ones that I’m talking about, the ones that come with the giant checks, big money and the popping of the colorful confetti canons. They also come with the need to forever dust them, and someday find a burial place for this chunk of pride. Please take notice that I said there are 14…..only 14 given out at each nationals. My first point is….not everyone will get one. Beyond all the fun and “everybody winning” there will be an actual competition taking place. Frankly, at the end of the day most of you won’t get one and, here comes the real shocker… that’s OK! (don’t stop reading yet, it gets better)
I recently heard a quote from Oprah, and I love it: “You get as much out of losing as you get out of winning!” Ponder that mommies, daddies and teachers! I will leave the kids out of the pondering right now because this is where you as adults need to step in and use the power of the loss in your favor in order to create the power of the win later in life, (that is my original quote, just made it up). I truly believe it is well and good to come in with high hopes, big dreams and the “let’s do this attitude”, but, there has to be some honesty and open dialog about the chance that there are other dancers just as good and perhaps even better. You must as teachers also teach and preach to both kids and parents that this is subjective competition. When watching the Summer Olympics there are clearly sports where the first one to cross the finish line wins (objective competition). There are also sports like gymnastics where a small panel of judges use their professional expertise to score a routine (subjective competition). When it comes to judges I don’t always agree either because I have a personal opinion and personal preferences just like the people on the panel. But I am not judging and neither is your teacher, mom, dad, grandma or grandpa. Of course everyone thinks their child is awesome and they all are. Every child deserves kudos for putting themselves out there on the big stage and this is where the later in life winning comes in. Not winning (dare I say losing) teaches a lot of life lessons. It teaches you how to handle disappointing situations. It teaches you when and where to cry, how to maintain composure, who to talk to, how to speak of others, how to be a good sport, when to clap even when it’s not you getting the applause. It teaches perspective, respect, team work, drive, and determination. It teaches how to set goals, all about anger management, how to be the bigger person, when to turn the other cheek, how to deal with bullies, and how to pick yourself up. The list goes on and on, and it is all positive, good stuff that very child will need in life. Use the “lose”, if you choose to call it that, to your advantage as teachers and parents.
Over the years it is sad for me that the handful of really poor losers stick in my mind. But, it happens and it happens every year. I have pretty thick skin after years of wearing the target when it comes to this part of the competition and yes, again, there is real competition going on even with the “everyone wins” theme that permeates this industry! Over the years I have awakened to more than my share of heated emails. They usually appear on Terrible Tuesdays, and are only written by the parents who cannot let it go, or are unable to find the perspective. These emails are rarely from the teacher, and usually the teacher doesn’t know about them until I forward them on. I forward the particularly alarming ones, or the occasional threatening ones to them. I don’t do it to create drama, the drama is in full bloom by that point anyway. I do it out of respect to the teachers and to keep them in the loop. Over the years I have been flipped the bird, called some rolling rhymes, physically pushed, threatened to “watch my back” at a hot dog stand, yelled at (in a Starbucks), followed to my car, and called in my hotel room numerous times. I have watched kids get dragged over the stage railing in the middle of awards, seen more tears than water in The Great Lakes, rescued exhausted judges while they try to eat a quick meal, watched parents refuse to take a picture with their kids on stage, watched groups not show up for final photos, been given back trophies, witnessed entire studios leave all of the their awards in the middle of a dressing room (not for recycling purposes, trust me). I’ve even seen teachers walk out on their studios, mostly because the parents are jumping them without mercy. In reality, most of the bad behavior demonstrated by parents is done by those whose kids are less than 10 years old. That’s my experience, and it’s very sad considering that is the age when parents make the deepest impressions. Trust me again, a teenager with bad sportsmanship did not learn the behavior in the past year, it has been observed and practiced for years. My point here is simple, don’t be like this. Everything I’ve described was adult behavior! Regardless of the outcome, you as teachers and adults have the power to play the winning card in your behavior when there is disappointment. You also have the time right now to set the stage, not only as you practice for the stage, but as you practice for the results. Compete for the love of dance, for the love of competition, for the teamwork, for the pool parties, for the dinners, for the lifelong friendships, for the memories, for the slumber parties, and for the other social aspects. Compete to win, but also compete to lose. Because in reality, no one really loses. There is so much to gain for these kids in the thing we call competition, and it certainly isn’t wrapped up in 14 big trophies.
I had this blog written before the first humungous national schedule came out for Kansas City but had not yet had a chance to post it. I now feel like I need to add to it. Within 20 minutes of that schedule being posted I had a few teachers and parents who were already in high stress mode about the amount of Overall titles we were giving out. Let me make it clear: There are 13 Overalls designed into the system, which is well over the 8 we originally gave out for years. If, however, a division grows, or the schedule has us splitting stages or days, we will add appropriately. This year in Kansas City there are 14 Overall titles up for grabs. This is in addition to the 60 plus age division and level line ups and titles that will be awarded. These division and level line ups are very big deals too, and should NOT be overshadowed but the few Overalls. This is where I personally get the most disappointed… I see kids, parents and teachers treat these divisional victories with disdain, tears and anger. These line ups represent a significant recognition for a season’s worth of work. If you don’t want that title I can promise you there are 9 runner up positions right behind you who would love to be in your dance shoes. Perspective!
As for the yearly advice on what it takes to actually win one of those 14 hunks of plastic and wood… It takes hours of practice, sweat, tears, hunger, drive, teamwork, corrections, positive attitude, attendance, skill, talent, showmanship, passion, pain and technique. It takes all of this coming together for about 3 randomly selected minutes twice on the stage. It also relies on several professional opinions coming together in your favor. It also takes everyone feeling well, all costumes staying in place, all head pieces intact, no injuries, no music issues, no missed turns, and no forgetting to smile. Fair or not, it also takes a bit of luck!
With this all being said, you are all already winners, though you may not all be Overall Champions! Best wishes to you all. Practice hard and leave it all on the national stage.